Rorty, irony and the consequences of contingency for liberal society

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This paper examines Richard Rorty’s much criticised figure of the ironist, and the role that it plays in liberal society. It argues that, against Rorty’s own presentation, irony might have positive social consequences. It does so by examining Rorty’s description of the ironist, arguing that it contains different ideas which emerge at different points in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. It takes up William Curtis’s claim that irony is a civic virtue, one closely associated with liberal ideas such as tolerance and pluralism. Curtis is insightful in identifying this aspect of irony, but I argue that it might also play a further role. The ironist is concerned with self-creation, something which Rorty takes to be a private activity, but I argue that the selves ironists create might potentially benefit liberal society, with the ironist’s re-descriptions calling into question received wisdom and alerting us to unnoticed forms of cruelty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-965
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number9
Early online date13 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

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